Dr. Ray E. Heiple, Jr.
Taking Communion in a Worthy Manner
But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment on himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. 1 Corinthians 11:28-29NKJV
This morning we look at Westminster Larger Catechism Question 174, which asks, “What is required of them that receive the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper in the time of the administration of it?” It gives the answer, “It is required of them that receive the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, that, during the time of the administration of it, with all holy reverence and attention they wait upon God in that ordinance, diligently observe the sacramental elements and actions, heedfully discern the Lord’s body, and affectionately meditate on his death and sufferings, and thereby stir up themselves to a vigorous exercise of their graces; in judging themselves, and sorrowing for sin; in earnest hungering and thirsting after Christ, feeding on him by faith, receiving of his fullness, trusting in his merits, rejoicing in his love, giving thanks for his grace; in renewing of their covenant with God, and love to all the saints.”
In the last few Catechism questions we have been examining the great emphasis the Westminster Divines placed upon requiring a certain level of understanding before one could rightly (and safely) partake of the Lord’s Supper. Today’s Question continues that emphasis. As the Scripture quoted above plainly commands, to partake of the Supper while NOT engaging in personal examination nor exercising knowing discernment is to eat and drink “in an unworthy manner.” The Bible ominously declares that anyone who engages in such an act pronounces God’s “judgment on himself.” So what is involved in this sober examination and discernment? How do we worthily commune in the Lord’s Supper?
Notice that we have a duty to discharge during our partaking of the Supper. In baptism there is no such concurrent duty enjoined upon the recipient, a duty which inheres in the very nature of the sacrament. Thus, in baptism the commandment is given to the one doing the baptizing, “Go and make disciples… baptizing… and teaching,” (Mat. 28:19-20). But in the Lord’s Supper the command is given not to the administrator, but to the partaker of the sacrament, “Take, eat… drink from it all of you,” (Mat. 26:26-27). The person communing must consider and understand what he is doing in the moment he is doing it. He must remember Jesus’ death, as he eats and drinks. The responsibility is on him. Today’s Question explicitly notes the following duties:
Reverently and attentively waiting upon God,
Diligently observing the sacramental elements and actions (breaking, sharing, etc.),
Heedfully discerning the Lord’s Body,
Affectionately meditating on Christ’s passion and death.
The confidence I have from the Supper is that I am nourished by Christ now. Today He is my life. Today He is my sustenance because I am right now united to Him by faith. This fact is why the Lord’s Supper is the ongoing sacrament, otherwise having communed once would be sufficient. It is the sign and seal of the redemption that is my current possession by faith. Even as my faith must actively and intentionally lay hold upon Christ, so God has given me a sign and a seal that I actively and intentionally receive. I eat and drink in faith that Christ is mine and I am His. I profess that I have the life of Christ within me by my present faith. Therefore, I take the symbol of that life – the bread and the cup representing Christ’s body and blood – within me by eating and drinking according to His commandment. And to meaningfully appropriate the symbol I must be able to understand it. Thus, the Lord’s Supper is for current believers who understand and affirm their covenant responsibilities towards God and man. Accordingly, the Supper is a Covenant meal. When we come to the Supper by Christ’s holy commandment, we are actually re-covenanting again with God. Only those who understand what this means, and the judgment they are invoking upon themselves in the process should they break the covenant (and which sometimes falls on those who neglect to so discern, see 1 Cor. 11:29-32), can rightly and safely participate in it. May our good God grant that we would ever more commune in a worthy manner!